I got a friendly note earlier this afternoon from a longtime reader who expressed her surprise that I was posting so much about religion and spirituality, particularly mysticism. She noted that it seemed odd for a self-described agnostic to be eschewing rationalism for New Age-ism.
A primer about my background is perhaps in order, in case others are curious, and in case I choose to post more on the topic. The subject of my still not-quite-finished graduate thesis in history was 19th century religion in New Brunswick, in particular the Free Christian Baptist Church as it struggled to reconcile the mystical and experiential roots of its New Light beginnings under Henry Alline in the late 18th century with the 19th century impulse to become more oriented towards the increasingly rationalist mainstream norms of the more established Protestant Churches. This led to a schism within the denomination in the mid 1880s between the majority who had integrated the Church more fully into the broader society, with an emphasis on things like denominational newspapers and bigger and more elaborate churches and paid clergy and missionary societies, and those who wanted to re-focus on the core spiritual experience that they felt was being obscured by non-essentials. They gravitated towards the holiness movement that had been started in the 1840s by the great Christian mystic Phoebe Palmer, who stressed a personal and experiential union with God, and they were eventually expelled from the Free Christian Baptists. They formed their own smaller denomination, called the Reformed Baptists - the Church that my late paternal grandfather, Rev. Hollis Mullen, was ordained in a few decades later.
|Portrait of my grandfather Rev. Hollis Kimball, |
by my cousin Judy Bouma.
I remember many conversations I had with my grandfather when I was young, and if perhaps I didn't quite grasp everything that he was trying to tell me at the time (I was still just a teenager when he passed away), they were embedded in my memory, and have served as the inspiration ever since for my own truth-seeking.
So mysticism, particularly of the Christian type, is nothing new to me, both from an academic and from a personal perspective. I remain an agnostic, because unlike my grandfather I have not been able to embrace a certainty about any of it - I've never had that profound encounter with "the divine" that he once described to me, and which changed the course of his life. But I keep looking for it, and trying to understand what it might mean by studying the works and ideas and lives of those who have had it... whatever it is.